Parked on the corner of a Kenmore, Washington brewery is a bright orange food truck. It’s called The Vet Chef and inside is a former Marine with a passion for food.
“The restaurant is a lot like the military,” said Chef Kyle Gourlie.
“You have to do things at a certain time, follow the orders of the head chef,” said fellow veteran, Paul Welling, who worked at The Vet Chef for several years.
Marine Corps Veteran Kyle Gourlie is used to following orders.
“I did one tour to Ramadi, Iraq. I was a machine gunner on the top of a Humvee," he recalled.
His orders look a little different these days, and he’s grateful for the new adventure. This food truck is the beginning of a new chapter, born from a love Gourlie’s had his entire life.
“Aw man, I love food,” said Gourlie. “I could work a 14-hour day, wake up in the morning and start cooking food at my own house. It makes me happy. It’s my art, it’s everything to me.”
The happiness he’s found now came after a long period of struggle and recovery.
When Gourlie was deployed, an explosion almost killed him.
“I peered over the top of my Humvee, and it was an IED. It blew me sideways. I broke my back in five places, my neck in three, and had a brain injury, but thankfully, I walked away with no scars,” recounted Gourlie.
He spent two years healing, and even when he was physically ready to move on, Gourlie realized the transition to civilian life couldn’t happen overnight.
“I’ve had morning routine to evening routine, every single day, planned out for me, order after order and that’s been my life. Now, I’m expected to do all this, and I don’t even know how to fill out a check, which was me, I had no concept of how to fill out a check. It’s scary," he said.
It was his family who encouraged him to follow his passion into the kitchen and open The Vet Chef.
“I was blessed I had a family and a wife because without them I would be lost.”
But he didn’t want to stop there. Gourlie is making sure he’s hiring other vets to pay his good fortune forward.
“A food truck, veteran-owned and operated that wanted to create this opportunity for other vets, and I’m like, ‘I could really get behind that’,” said Navy veteran Paul Welling.
Even if their military careers made them friendly rivals, the bond Gourlie and his team share as service members is irreplaceable.
“It’s been really nice to see people who have been on our truck build back into society, and I’m building with them, and it’s been wonderful,” said Gourlie.
But working in this food truck is so much more than a job. Gourlie makes sure to pass on all of his culinary skills, so each of the veterans who come through here is prepared for a career for years to come.
“We don’t always have that job that transitions in the civilian world, so you learn a lot of skills in the military, you can use those, but it doesn’t really give you a job path,” said Welling. “I think it’s great he wants to utilize those skills to maybe work on the food truck and maybe open up their own food truck and become masters of their own destiny.”
And it’s not just professional skills these vets are learning.
“Not every day is gonna be perfect,” said Welling. “One day, your generator’s going to go out in the middle of service, and I think that’s a good mantra for life: nothing is going to be perfect, but you try to help people and there’s always tomorrow.”
Gourlie hopes tomorrow holds a future where this orange truck is a familiar sight across the country.
“If we can ever get food trucks into vets’ hands and help them run their business, I think it’s gonna be wildly successful and get people back into society a whole lot better,” said Gourlie.
It’s a mission this veteran will work tirelessly to accomplish because this comfort food feeds so much more than hunger.
“They deserve every success they possibly could have because they’ve sacrificed so much,” said Gourlie. “It makes me feel blessed and honored to be a part of that.”
If you'd like to learn more about The Vet Chef, click HERE.